Beat the blues with art therapy

Want to relax after a hard day's work, or just want to connect with yourself? Pick up a colouring book, and fill it up with colours that match your mood

Deepa Padmanaban
First Published23 Nov 2015, 07:27 PM IST
Colouring an image gives a sense of accomplishment once completed, say experts. Photo: iStockphoto<br />
Colouring an image gives a sense of accomplishment once completed, say experts. Photo: iStockphoto

The scratch of crayon on paper, the scraping of sharpening a colour pencil, the splash of dipping a brush in paint—these sounds are all part of our childhood. But today it’s not just children who love to colour, adults too enjoy the activity.

Mahesh Natarajan, co-founder and counsellor at InnerSight Counselling & Training Centre LLP in Bengaluru, says, “As children, we enjoyed sketching and colouring tremendously. As we grow older, we lose it (the enthusiasm for colouring) to a world that asks for conformity and realism, and get into a grey space. Our ability to feel and express also goes down. Now, as adults, if we can get over ourselves and get back to these colouring books, it will really help to connect back to what we are feeling.”

Adults colouring has become a rage and is seen as a relaxation technique and a way to beat stress. Carl G. Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist in the early 20th century, was one of the earliest to use colouring as a relaxation technique. His theory was that art, colouring or any creative expression is unique; it can help treat a certain problem, and also enables the therapist to approach the problem in a positive way.

The best part about this activity is that it doesn’t require you to go to any class. A box of crayons or colour pencils in your bag and a piece of paper or a book is all you need to start your colouring activity and make those blues or work stress go away. “Almost all tertiary care hospitals in major cities have an art therapist and encourage colouring and painting as a therapeutic activity to help speed up recovery on the wards,” says Ashlesha Bagadia, a Bengaluru-based psychiatrist.

Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt And Coloring Book by Johanna Basford was the first adult colouring book that captured the imagination of adults when it was released in 2013. It sold over a million copies and went on to become one of the best-selling books on Amazon.

Indu Harikumar, a New Delhi-based artist who published an adult colouring book, Beauty Needs Space, in August, says, “Three years ago, I did a few colouring panels for a non-profit that works with undertrials at the Byculla jail in Mumbai. I was told that colouring calmed them.” The general themes of Beauty Needs Space are positivity and mindfulness. Many of the colouring panels in the book are drawn with positive messages like “Worrying solves nothing” and “Love need not be conditional”.

“A colouring book is a totally loosening experience because you are only in the moment— you, your medium and the paper—the lines are drawn, all you need is to fill it up with colours that your mood dictate,” says Vidya Gopal, an information technology professional turned artist who has used Harikumar’s book. Bengaluru-based Gopal adds, “The fact that it takes some time to fill up, and there is so much detail and you have no deadline, makes it a very meditative process; the physical process of applying colour—the feel of your pen touching the paper is therapeutic. I usually find I’m more focused after a bit of colouring to get on to my day’s drawing.”

Priyanka Murthy, a student at the University of Western Australia, Perth, was introduced to colouring books by a Brazilian friend at the university. “I was intrigued by the concept of adult colouring books. The last time I coloured was when I was a child. Sometimes when I need a break from studies and work, I take out my colouring book and start colouring the pictures.”

Natarajan says there is a meditativeness about colouring that helps people become more mindful and connected to themselves. “This is therapeutic, especially for someone who has been through trauma, or has anxiety issues,” he says.

Jisha Iyer, a special needs educator in Houston, Texas, picked up the colouring habit from her students after she saw how it calms them and how they express what they cannot through words. “When I am stressed about everyday things it helps me. It is a great distraction and doesn't require me to focus a lot. I have often used colouring during long flights since they have become very stressful with a million security checks,” she says.

Colouring can also help us connect with how we feel—depending on our mood, we choose different colours. “Based on my mood I may choose a dark colour pencil like dark brown and then choose a lighter one such as pink. It’s like some sort of self-administered art therapy. By the end of the session I feel relaxed,” says Murthy. Bagadia adds that colouring an image gives a sense of accomplishment once complete. “It needs less artistic skill than drawing and that’s why it’s more appealing.”

Today, a wide range of colouring books for adults is available, with special themes and designs such as geometric shapes, animal and plant figures, nature landscapes and mandalas. There are also free websites from which one can download colouring pages, such as or Bombay Drawing Room (, which has organized a few social painting sessions across Mumbai and New Delhi.

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First Published:23 Nov 2015, 07:27 PM IST
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